Connect to share and comment

Supernatural Thailand

Please don't wear purple, red or orange. Tusks pulled from jungle pigs are fine.

Buddhism, the faith claimed by more than 95 percent of all Thais, is largely opposed to the occult. Yet remnants of animism, folk religions rooted in spirits and superstition, still remain.

“‘The occult arts are for those who are asleep,” wrote renowned Thai Buddhist monk Buddhadasa Bhikku in a set of teachings called "The Prison of Life." “We are taught these things as small children without intelligence or reason. If you still feel that 13 is an unlucky number, that’s occult. You’re still asleep.”

Still, many political leaders, regardless of their faith in the occult, are at least aware of its power over voters, Baker said. “It’s a way of making claims to a certain type of power. It’s used like p.r.”

Newin Chidchob, a hugely influential former parliamentarian now banned from politics, is particularly associated with supernatural powers — largely because he’s ethnically Cambodian, Baker said. The Thai superstitious typically regard neighboring countries, particularly Cambodia and Burma, as more-primitive lands where ghosts haven’t been driven back by urban development.

Leaders like Newin often make no effort to distance themselves from their black magic personas. “It’s mostly in people’s imaginations,” Baker said. “But he’s allowed this to be played up.” Beliefs about Newin are so widespread that, when soldiers briefly detained him after the most recent coup, they acted on a senior officers’ orders to strip the politician and remove his magic amulets.

Politicians’ public displays of occultism are likely to wane as younger Thais push out the old generation, who are much more likely to retain ancient beliefs. The Thai press already mines humor from the more-absurd displays — and got great mileage when a former prime minister’s wife, on a soothsayer’s advice, carried around a plush toy elephant clad in diamond earrings and a lacy wedding dress.

“The beliefs are popular,” said the boar tusk vendor, “but becoming less popular. These are beliefs held by your grandparents. Now, people are using more logic.”

More GlobalPost stories on the supernatural:

Welcome to the ghost fair

How to shoo off a Jordanian jinn

The sea goddess and the web